Personal vs. Private: What's the Difference?

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13224

Have you ever thought about whether your Facebook page shows personal information or private information? In this lesson, you'll learn the difference between them and help you protect yourself online!


Communications, Practical Life Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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John could not wait for his 13th birthday. Because federal law prohibits anyone younger than 13 from owning social media accounts without parental consent, he had to wait before joining that online community.

On his birthday, he immediately created an account and began adding as many friends as possible -- some he knew well and others he had never really met.

John made all his personal information, including his posts, public, and his very first post read:

My name is John David Debusky, and I am 13 today! Text me at 555-867-5309 to wish me a happy birthday!

  • Do you think it was a good idea for John to give out so much information about himself on social media?
  • Should any of that information have been personal or private instead of public?
  • If you were John's friend, what advice might you give him?

private vs public

The internet and, in particular, social media have become part of our everyday lives.

It is a great way to learn, share ideas and thoughts, socialize, be entertained, and reconnect with family and friends.

  • But, at what cost?

It is important to remember that your digital presence involves numerous websites and applications that will have access to your information. That is why you are required to sign up first.

Yes, signing up is a way to verify that the account claiming to be you is in fact you. However, in doing so, you usually provide your complete name, phone number, and email address. Some applications with paid subscriptions will also require your credit card information and billing address.

This has become so common that most of us no longer think twice about providing it or agreeing to the site's "Terms and Conditions" without actually reading them.

In reality, what happens with all our personal information is unpredictable and sometimes even dangerous!

Personal Information and Private Information

Information can be shared. It could be within your circle of friends, your neighborhood, or even globally.

The scope and possibility of your information being passed from one point to another never ends. That's how powerful the internet is.

John may think his post was a simple self-introduction, but it includes a lot of information that could be used against him, like his full name, date of birth, and phone number.

Information can be categorized as either personal or private.

  • What's the difference between the two?

Let's dig deeper and explore some examples.

Personal Information

Anything you share that does not contain information that would specifically identify you is considered personal information.

This would include personal interests and preferences as well as your opinion, reaction, or commentary about something or someone. Other examples of personal information include:

  • your age
  • your first name
  • your gender
  • number of siblings you have
  • your opinion about politics
  • your comment about a movie
  • your favorite restaurant
  • your favorite football team

Private Information

Anything you share that includes sensitive and confidential information which should be kept secure is private information.

This information can easily be used to commit identity theft, which is when someone pretends to be you for illegal purposes.

Examples of private information include:

  • your phone number
  • your credit card information
  • your social security number
  • your usernames and passwords
  • your email address
  • your date of birth
  • your complete mailing or billing address
  • your mother's maiden name

Look at John's post again. Although giving his age is personal information, he also announced that it was his birthday. Easy math gives everyone his date of birth.

John also gave out his full name and phone number. Now, if his settings only allowed his friends to see this information, it might not be so bad as long as he knew all his friends well. John had his privacy settings on public, though, and added several friends he did not know well. All of this matters.

Before continuing, review the differences between Private and Personal Information with Common Sense Education:

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The Risk for Identity Theft

If you don't take a moment to think before sharing information online, there is a good chance you are sharing more than you should.

That is what all identity thieves want, and they are constantly digging through everyone's digital footprints looking for private information.

An identity thief uses someone else's private identity information to pretend to be that person. Once the thief has your identity, he or she can use it to apply for credit cards or loans with no intention of ever paying that money back.

That means you could be required to pay for things you never actually bought!

  • How can you protect yourself from identity theft?

Watch Protecting Yourself From Identify Theft Online from NIH VideoCast:

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Don't fall prey to identity theft!

Head over to the Got It? section to practice identifying personal and private information!

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